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Obscenity - The Meese Commission And The Pornography Debate

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The Reagan administration continued its war on pornography by convening in 1985 the Meese Commission to study the effects of pornography on society in general and women in specific. With a budget of $500,000 and over 200 witnesses, the Meese Commission set out to prove the deleterious effects that obscenity has on the body politic. The results of the Final Report concluded that pornography harms the individual and society. An interesting by-product of the commission's work was the formation of an unlikely alliance between political conservatives, fundamentalists, and radical feminists. Religious critics of pornography claim that the viewing of pornographic material ultimately warps the user's view of sex, and that users become dissatisfied with their real-life sex partners. Some psychologists also claim that pornography becomes addictive, forcing the user to search for ever more shocking forms of sexual titillation. The feminist writer, Andrea Dworkin, and law professor, Catherine A. McKinnon, testified before the commission, adding fuel to the argument of the link between pornography and rape. Dworkin's view of the sex-object role in which pornography places women was clearly stated in her book, Pornography: Men Possessing Women. McKinnon had also previously fought pornography as a form of sex discrimination, taking the debate to another legal level.

However, the inevitable backlash set in with the findings of the Meese Commission: many feminists disagreed with Dworkin's and McKinnon's position, arguing that a crackdown could hit all sexually oriented literature and presentations, pornographic or not. And other social scientists and researchers noted that the link between pornography and violence to women was not so simplistic as described in the commission report, with some even taking the position that pornography could work as preventative to such violence, allowing a fanciful resolution to aggressive tendencies. Studies thus far have been inconclusive in directly connecting, for example, the viewing of hard-core pornography with rape, and the harmful, addictive effects of pornography on users has also been challenged by scholars.

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